Three minutes.

That’s how long Lekelefac Fonge was supposed to be gone.

His cousin Beatrand Fally Bezezuh had given Fonge a ride that day because his car had broken down at the end of his shift as a caretaker and he needed to get his client, Devon Miler, home.

Bezezuh says he picked the two up in Lanham, Md., and drove them to the rowhouse in Northeast Washington where Miler lived.

“How was your day today?” he recalls Miler asking during the drive.

“It was good,” he told him. “How was your day?”

To an outsider, that exchange might seem nothing more than a simple conversation. To Bezezuh, it was a testament to Fonge. When the 27-year-old home health aide first started working with the 24-year-old with autism, Miler was mostly nonverbal, Bezezuh says. But the two practiced pronouncing phrases such as “Good morning” and “See you tomorrow,” and Fonge took Miler with him to friends’ birthday parties and baby showers to socialize.

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“Everybody in the family, everyone knew Devon,” Bezezuh says. “He treated his client as a blood brother. They would eat off the same plate.”

When they got to Miler’s rowhouse that day, Fonge told his cousin he just needed to walk Miler inside. He asked him to wait in the car.

“I’ll be back in three minutes,” Bezezuh recalls him saying.

Bezezuh says he was still waiting when a vehicle pulled in front of his. He saw two men dressed in black step out, walk toward the house and, when the front door opened, go inside. A short while later, he says, he noticed a woman who was walking her dog start running.

He lowered his window, and that’s when he heard the last gunshot.

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When he walked inside the rowhouse, he saw what D.C. police would later describe: Fonge and Miler had both been fatally shot.

Police later arrested Davon Peyton, 27, of Alexandria and charged him with first-degree murder while armed. According to witness statements in an arrest warrant, Peyton and his brother went to the house on Oct. 9 so the latter could pay back money he owed for candy sold at the house. Peyton asked to use the restroom and was directed upstairs. A short while later, according to the witness statements, Peyton came downstairs, brandished a black handgun and demanded money.

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“Give up whatever you got,” one person heard him say.

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One of the witnesses who spoke to police was Peyton’s brother. He told them that when Peyton pointed the gun at Miler, he tried to stop him from shooting the man. He told police that he stood in front of Miler but that Peyton reached around him, fired the gun and pushed him out of way. The brother said Peyton then walked toward the back of the house, pointed the gun at Fonge and, after saying, “Give it up,” pulled the trigger again.

When police arrived, according to the warrant, they found both men unconscious, with “no signs consistent with life.” Miler had been shot in the neck and Fonge had a gunshot wound to the face.

“I just don’t want to believe that he’s gone,” Bezezuh says on a recent afternoon of his cousin, who was also called Leke. “I keep saying every day, ‘Leke, come on, let’s go, I’m still waiting for you.’ ”

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When Bezezuh, 30, came to the area from Cameroon about a year and a half ago, Fonge was the one who made sure he felt welcomed. He pulled him into his social circles and helped him get a job as a home health aide. Fonge had come from the same southwest region of the country years earlier with an aunt and uncle who adopted him.

Bezezuh says his cousin’s death has not only hit his family hard, but it has also been felt by Cameroonians throughout the Washington region, across the United States and beyond.

The family expects that hundreds of people will show up at a service they are planning for him in the D.C. area. They also know many people are waiting for his body to be sent to Cameroon, where his mother and younger brother remain.

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“His mother told me that since last week, people keep coming to the home,” says Alfred Forgwe, who adopted Fonge when he was a teenager. There, he explains, it is customary for people to stay with grieving families for days. “People are sleeping everywhere. Some are sleeping on the floor of the living room. The house is full. It’s going to keep on like that until he is finally buried.”

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The family is trying to raise $25,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to send his body home. By Friday afternoon, the fund had been shared more than 1,200 times and had raised more than $15,000.

“It’s amazing,” Forgwe says. “I appreciate everyone.”

He describes Fonge as “different” from most people. He says Fonge rarely got angry with anyone, and if someone got upset with him, he always found a way to make that person laugh. He recalls watching him build a relationship with Miler. He saw them cook together and take naps on the couch at the same time. He says Fonge also had a way of connecting with children, including Forgwe’s 8-year-old daughter.

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“She keeps asking me, ‘Why would someone shoot him to death? What did he do?’ ” Forgwe says. “No matter what I explain, she keeps asking me.”

He also works as a home health aide and says the days since Fonge’s death have been difficult.

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“Sometimes I cry at work,” he says. “Sometimes I’m eating and I think of him and cry. It will take me a long time to stop crying.”

Fonge’s roommate, Paul Anida, says he woke up a few nights ago from a panic attack. He says Fonge had an “electric, vibrant personality” that drew people toward him. Now, Anida says, their apartment “feels like a graveyard.”

He also came from Cameroon and says that for many people in the community, Fonge’s death has brought close what they thought they left far behind: “You come here and expect to have peace of mind. You come here and you expect to stay away from all the troubles back home.”

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A Human Rights Watch report describes violence and human rights abuses taking place in the country in recent years: “In the South West and North West, government security forces have committed extrajudicial executions, burned property, carried out arbitrary arrests, and tortured detainees. . . . According to the International Crisis Group, government forces and armed separatists killed over 420 civilians in the regions since the crisis escalated in 2017.”

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Anida says Fonge moved his mother from one place to another to keep her safe from the violence.

“It’s becoming worse,” he says. “They don’t value human life.”

They don’t value human life. He is talking about there. But he could also be talking about here. Students in the District have said they are scared to walk to and from school because of the gun violence, and a climbing homicide count recently pushed D.C. officials to authorize paying officers overtime to patrol three areas of the city.

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Within a 24-hour period this month, bullets killed a 15-year-old boy, a D.C. Housing Authority employee on his lunch break and, in that rowhouse, two men who spent their days sharing food and practicing saying words such as “Good night.”

“He loved his job,” Bezezuh says. “He enjoyed every minute of doing his job.”

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He says his cousin earned about $15 an hour, which he generously shared with friends here who needed it and relatives in his home country.

Before the Wednesday he was killed, he told several friends that he planned to send his mother money that Friday.

Now, they’re hoping to at least send her his body.

Read more from Theresa Vargas:

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